re:Jenny Diski on ‘Second Life’

Jenny Diski

As far as I can understand it, Many Worlds Theory proposes that there are n zillion worlds like this one but marginally different, operating in parallel to the only world in which we think we exist.

We might each be living out all our possible lives, through all the variations of what we could possibly say or do, in an infinite number of worlds where everyone else is living out their variations, each at some weird angle to this one that my sorry, innumerate and spatially challenged brain is unable to comprehend. If this sounds like hell on earths to you then you probably haven’t signed up for Second Life.

It seems that Diski is yet another one of those closed-minded souls, or as she defines herself- indolent; too lazy to get out into the world and see the creativity that oldbies and us midbies have carved out in the world. Her first error I notice is that she states It’s called a game though there is no goal and no end point at which a clear winner emerges and takes the prize. Only the unknowing refer to it a game. Nobody at Linden Lab calls it a game, and no self-respecting oldbie or midbie calls it a game either for the precise reasons Diski states- there are no goals, there is no end point. At , Babbage and Cory were there to say this in a more detailed form- (paraphrased) games have artificial conflict, games have conflict resolution; Second Life has neither of these. In Second Life, the only goals you have are those that you make yourself. It’s a virtual world- an alternative universe; a metaverse some say.

And it’s free up to a point, which is the entrance price of real life, though just like the here and now, if you want to own any part of the world in Second Life, you need money to buy it.

Unlike “real life”, you can go for your entire Second Life without spending a single penny or L$. This is something Diski seems to skim over; Everything in Second Life is created by it’s Residents- if you want something, try making it instead of buying it.

There are of course differences between RL and SL. You have to opt in to SL, which is a degree of volition you don’t get in reality. This does give it a certain negative charm: at least there is one possible life to which you can just say no.

Two things:

  1. I’m not really familiar enough with Diski’s work or herself personally to understand why exactly that having to “opt in to SL” gives it a negative charm. I would’ve thought that this would be a positive thing- if it doesn’t seem your thing, don’t sign up for it.
  2. You do have to opt-in to “reality”, once you’re aware of it at least. If that thought is a little too deep for anyone reading this blog, consider “RL” to have an opt-out policy; if you don’t accept it, you’re either nuts or you commit suicide. Since there is a fairly large field of medical science devoted to schizophrenia and depression, it seems that those that have accepted this world are fairly aware that there are those that do not or cannot accept this reality.

The problem turned out to be (as it must) that Second Life is organised and inhabited by beings from the real world who have by definition very little experience of being anywhere or any way else.

If you are looking for another way of being, you’ll be deeply disappointed. But you probably won’t be because you will understand that it couldn’t be otherwise. I was beguiled by the idea of a world apart from the real world which people keep telling me I have to come to terms with. It turns out that there is no second life on Second Life, only more of the same old first and only one, but cartoon-shaped. In Second Life each individual can take little bits of processing power, learn to manipulate them and make two-dimensional objects of any kind.

The problem turns out to be, that most of the people coming into Second Life are consumers. Consumers with little creativity. The older Residents, the artisans, the creators of this virtual world; There exist people out there in First Life and Second Life who have created entire universes inside their head via the written word, via film. With Second Life, these concepts can be brought into being, and shared with everyone- instead of being just a dream or delusion.

Of course Second Life is going to be filled with reminders of the reality we all come from- the world is based on the Cartesian system- the world is contiguous in all compass directions; the virtual world is three dimensional, and while there have been some experiments into hypercubes. Second Life exists in the third dimension, yet allows us to make crude interpretations of the four dimensions, possibly even higher. It is only the limitations of the minds of the Residents that limits the creativity and originality of our creations.

Linden Lab, the owners of Second Life, guarantee that everyone will retain the real world intellectual property rights to their virtual creations. So is the place stuffed full of extraordinary experimental poetry, song, fiction, art and architecture?

Linden Lab are the creators. They own the manifestation of Second Life in the real-world, and it is we who own it. We create the world, we shape it, we bend it to our will. Our World, Our Imagination.

Eventually, your avatar becomes a caricature of what you have always wanted to be, exactly what you are, or in some cases a large furry animal.

Second Life is almost entirely inhabited by impossibly long-legged, big-breasted, muscle-rippling blondes with lips so plumped full of what would be collagen in the real world that they make Ivana Trump’s mouth look mean.

Or a potted plant, cola machine, , , , , , , star wars swoop bike…… I’ve got all kinds of things in my outfit folder that aren’t humanoid or furry. If you take a look through , you’ll see genuine beauties do exist in our virtual world. Oh, and I think you’ll find that Diski isn’t SL’s single example of an older generation, I come across many older avatars (they’re just difficult to find, not non-existent).

After a while I gave up wandering the earth (flying and teleporting in fact) with my messages of cultural dismay, and started asking questions of the helpful employees of Linden Labs made virtual flesh and available to assist the bewildered novice.

I think we find Diski, as many others do, mistakenly assuming that the staff manning the Help Request channel are Linden Lab employees. We’re not.

I had hopes of there being some kind of politics in Second Life. Maybe there were cyber-revolutionaries intent on subverting the pointless mimicry of the real world or an underground working to overturn the autocratic rule of the Lindens.

It seems Diski hadn’t looked hard enough. For politics in Second Life, Neufreistadt is a prime example. For cyber-revolutionaries intent on subverting the “autocratic rule” of the Lindens (ignoring the fact that Linden Lab prefer us to govern ourselves), see the times when driving away newcomers to Second Life with a good ol’ Fuego! in protest to the prim-tax resulted in Linden Lab changing to a 127 prim per 512m2 policy they have now.

‘Second’ doesn’t mean ‘alternative’. But not only does Second Life not offer an alternative existence, it positively encourages a replication of the regular world. It’s less a case of do it better than do it again: in fact, this seems to be its chief attraction.

Again, we come up with the continuing problem of the saturation of consumers coming into Second Life. The people expecting everything to be given to them on a silver platter; The people coming from WoW complaining about the lag- forgetting that WoW’s content is on their hard drive while SL’s is streamed on demand. If you come into Second Life and find that it lacks creativity and originality, this is because it is you who lack the ability to change the world. Yes, ‘Second’ doesn’t mean ‘alternative’, it means a ‘second chance‘. A second chance to reshape a world as you see fit- whether that world be first life, Second Life, your favourite novel or screenplay.

Another virtual world based in the Netherlands, Entropy Universe, has made the economic link between fantasy and reality even stronger by building degeneration into everything that exists on it. Not just clothes and cars wear out, but presumably bodies, too. And no silly sentimentality about a national health service to worry about

Entropia Universe doesn’t have the same economy that Second Life does. The resources are limited and the exchange rate is fixed. This, coupled with the fact that Residents of Second Life can make whatever they want, however they want and sell it for whatever price they see fit, is the reason why eBay allow Residents to sell their content on their auction sites, but you’ll have a hard time doing so with any other online world’s content. I personally found Entropia Universe to be as disapointing to me as Second Life was to Diski.

Jenny Diski

A very different kind of multiple world theory, where the same sad little world is made over and over again.

Linden Lab

Your World, Your Imagination

If you find Second Life to be an unoriginal replication of reality, then that is a flaw with your imagination, not Second Life itself.

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1 Comment

  1. Gillian Masala said,

    March 2, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Well, that was some extremely satisfying reading. I ‘m an enthusiastic fan of rebuttals! 😉 Hi, Marv–you gave me all these addresses today in Philip Linden’s office, and since I was in a hurry, I just hit each link and left a bunch of successive windows open in Safari when I ran out the door to the movies. Came back and started last-first with “Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, banana-phone!” I actually love that song and loved the absurdity of the video. Followed that appetizer to this first-course blog and am now ready for the second course…hmm, what to click on next? Thanks for a very nice menu–I am now a member of your office fan club, wherever they may be. 😉 –Gillian Masala


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